TOC Evolvers: WingedChariot Press

Neal Hoskins.jpegWingedChariot is a young publisher of international, multi-lingual picture books. Founded in 2005 as a print publisher, WingedChariot made launched into digital in 2009–and were the first paper publisher to bring out a picturebook on the iphone. Winged Chariot’s founder Neal Hoskins, interviewed below will be presenting on app development and marketing October 5 at TOC Frankfurt.

Why apps (as opposed to other digital book options)?
Apps allow for the experience of touching, playing, drawing, reading and that’s something kids love. We don’t want to restrict that experience with formats, especially with children’s picture books, why limit digital with just one format?

The user interface for your picture book apps is very intuitive. Was that intentional?
Yes and no. It grew out of our book publishing. The design aesthetic that we ascribed to in print was very simple and clean. When it came to digital, we gravitated toward simple and clean in our user interface as well — we went with what best served the book, and in the process we learned that kids “get” it. They don’t need a lot of instruction, or arrows, or highlighted objects. In fact, if you have to use lots of icons in your user interface, you’ve probably failed. You shouldn’t need two pages of instructions on how to read a book.

What do you say to the argument that book apps are potentially more distracting to children than they are educational?
I’d say there’s no clear yes or no. Some kids might do better with paper and text, others might learn better with an interactive book app, and some kids who might never have otherwise taken interest in books, might find a love for reading via apps. Literature can be accessed different ways. The bigger question might be: if a device does more than one thing, how tempting is it for a child to pop in and out of that book, and attempt to multi-task? But maybe kids grow up with that around them and learn to deal with all that.

That said, we're striving to learn more about how picture book apps can
best be devised to improve language acquisition skills, and we'll be
partnering on a research and development program next year — working in
conjunction with schools to study the effectiveness of multi-lingual
book apps in helping primary and secondary students (in schools where
there are upwards of fifty different languages represented among the
population) learn.

What’s the editorial and production process like for a WingedChariot book app? How do the developers, designers work together?
as in traditional publishing, there’s a lot of discussion about layout
and design long before we go into production. But, there also happens to
be a few additional people thrown in, which can be tricky — developers
and designers have different skill sets, but very similar roles. There
can be a lot of back and forth.

What would surprise the average non-app expert about the process of creating a picture book app?
that seem simple for a print picture book can be quite challenging for
an app. For example, the iphone can’t render a huge range of fonts, so
if special fonts are required, the words need to be created as images.
Among the languages that we’ve included in our story book app
translations is Pashto. It was a massive challenge, but our designer
Marie was able to locate a man in Pakistan who had developed a Pashto
font that can be rendered in photoshop. These are the sorts of obstacles
we face on a daily basis, but we get through them, and learn from them.

mzl.gnygjozb.320x480-75.jpgSpeaking of obstacles, what do you consider the real obstacles for publishers moving forward in the app space?
the Apple marketplace is the main marketplace for apps. It’s very
crowded, and unorganized – and seems to get more so every day. And, you
don’t have many reviewers reviewing apps like books, and probably never
will. So, it requires a lot of thinking outside the box and good old
fashioned marketing to drive people back to your app.

Are there any other notable publishers making waves in the picture book app space?
has now sort of put themselves out there as being a part of the ipad
children’s book app world. And, from what I’ve seen, they’re doing a
good job. It’s a great thing to have them in the space, and it will help
open up more publishers to the idea – and readers, for that matter.

driven a bit mad over how shoddy some of the children’s book apps put
out by Disney and Pixar are. I couldn’t be more a fan of the films these
companies do, but their children’s book apps lack the workmanship of
their films. Simple scenes with the text highlighted as the audio runs
along. The page turning is poor, the text inlay is poor. Given the
resources they have at their disposal it’s disappointing.

How would you judge WingedChariot’s success so far?
now we are still testing the waters in smaller markets before launching
in the States. Last weekend we sold 750 apps. It was a good milestone
for us, encouraging figures. We’re proud to talk about that. It’s still
lots of hard work and challenge, and it won’t go on every weekend, but
it shows us there’s a bigger market there. It’s a long road yet, but
we’re above where we expected to be. This is not instant success

Learn more about WingedChariot Press here, and you can follow Neal Hoskins on Twitter here.